Just over a year ago, and perhaps for many years, any citizen in the High Prairie region taking glass to the High Prairie Recycling Centre and expecting it to be recycled was seriously misled.
In fact, glass recycling was not occurring at the centre but no one wants to tell us why, even over a year later.
People, this is one sordid tale of mismanagement and misconception.
At the Town of High Prairie’s budget meeting Jan. 15, 2022 Councillor James Waikle asked, “How much is recycled and how much ends up in the dump?”
Councillor Judy Stenhouse added she believed the material from the bins ends up in the Slave Lake dump and added recycling in town was a “false impression of what recycling is all about.”
Turns out that statement was very, very true.
Jan. 15 was also when Town of High Prairie Public Works Supt. Vern Walker advised council, “Glass is not being recycled.”
Later, Waikle added “glass was not recycled” when he was on council years ago. He should know. He chaired the organization (Regional Landfill committee) looking after trash and recycling. He never told us anyone at the time, however, and citizens continued to pay for glass recycling.
To get an idea of how long ago Waikle refers to when saying “years ago” he served until 2017 before being re-elected in 2021. That was just over six under years ago.
Administration promised to look into the entire recycling issue. We are still waiting for a report.
It is not known for sure how much material is actually being recycling from the bins. We can be sure glass was not.
OK, so why did the Town of High Prairie specifically mark bins for glass recycling? By doing so, they were encouraging glass recycling when in fact glass was not being recycled. There was a clear implication to the public that glass was being recycled into useful products, not gathered up and “recycled” into a landfill.
I decided to dig into this mess a bit more and discovered what can only be described as shocking.
I emailed mayor and council on May 3. CAO Bill McKennan responded and said the following:
“Four recycling bins were removed in October 2021 and removed from monthly billing.”
(In a story in the June 1, 2022 South Peace News, it was reported the four bins cost $610.25 per month.)
“Credit was received for two months, even though bins were being used. (However, CAO Brian Martinson advised at council’s meeting on May 24, 2022 that they received three month’s credit. See partial transcript of the meeting on this page.)
“Green for Life did contribute $967.88 toward the Seniors Barbecue in 2022.”
However, when I wrote the editorial for the Jan. 20, 2022 South Peace News, I took a photo of the glass recycling container at the centre. Photos for that issue are filed for Jan. 20, 2022 in our files so at least one bin for recycling was at the centre in January 2022. The four bins were removed after the January 2022 editorial leaving 13 bins at the site from the former 17 bins. I know because I counted them.
And at no time did the Town of High Prairie advise users at the centre that glass was not being recycled. Yet, people were still using the centre and expecting glass to be recycled.
Big Lakes County is also involved in this, albeit unwillingly. On May 3, South Peace News emailed Big Lakes County because we were aware Big Lakes was paying half the bill for recycling at the centre. Here is the agreement provided by the County in the ICF Agreement regarding the Recycling Centre:
“Big Lakes and High Prairie have agreed to continue providing recycling services on an intermunicipal basis to meet the recycling needs of our shared community residents.”
The agreement further states, “Big Lakes and High Prairie have agreed to have High Prairie continue leading the delivery of this service.
“Big Lakes and High Prairie have each agreed to continue funding the annual recycling contract (currently Green for Life) or such other contract as approved by both parties for one consolidated bin location within the corporate boundaries of High Prairie on a fifty-fifty (50-50) basis.
“High Prairie shall allow all Big Lakes residents to utilize the recycling bins within the corporate boundaries of High Prairie and Big Lakes shall allow residents of High Prairie to utilize recycling bins within the corporate boundaries of Big Lakes.”
Note that the word “recycling” is used five times in the agreement. Yet we know glass recycling was not occurring. It seems to me that is a clear violation of the agreement.
May 11, South Peace News asked Big Lakes County administration and council if they were ever advised by the Town of High Prairie that glass recycling was not occurring. CAO Gerry Gautreau advised, “Not as of yet. As soon as I have anything I will let you know.”
May 12, I also emailed mayor and council advising them Big LakesCounty could find no proof from the Town of High Prairie they were not recycling glass. I asked for written proof they advised Big Lakes County to that effect. I am still waiting for that written proof.
May 12, I was advised that the Town’s contract with Green for Life provided no guarantee that glass recycling would ever occur. South Peace News asked for a copy of the contract but denied.
South Peace News contacted Green for Life in Edmonton and the head office in Vaugh, Ont. on May 11 and May 12 asking when glass recycling stopped in High Prairie. Green for Life did not respond. Why would they? They were under no obligation to actually recycle at the centre so they were doing nothing wrong.
Turns out Green for Life was pretty smart in agreeing to their contact with the Town of High Prairie. If anyone knows more about recycling in the region than Jule Asterisk, I don’t know who is. She has been a member of the Regional Environmental Action Committee for decades. No one brings more passion to recycling than she does. Here is what she has to say:
“There used to be a company that processed glass from around Alberta, providing transport. They accepted glass from municipal recycling programs. Their parameters for acceptance were very stringent: they had to have at least 10 tonnes to consider transport, and the glass had to be very clean (no coloured glass, labels, lids, etc.). They no longer exist. It looks like there is still a glass recycling company near Calgary, but I don’t know their parameters.
“Right now, glass sits at $10/tonne, so it’s not financially viable for municipalities to collect it and ship it to Calgary at any rate. It’s too bad our systems suck right now, because glass is endlessly recyclable but probably the only glass getting recycling consistently in Alberta is beverage containers.”
So, it is understandable Green for Life does not recycle glass because it is money-losing proposition. It still; however, does not excuse the Town of High Prairie from misleading people into believing glass was in fact being recycled.
“From my experience as a landfill manager, we collected over 10 tonnes of glass in Slave Lake, then the company came to look and said that we had too much coloured glass in there. I spent literally 4-6 hours cleaning out lids, coloured glass etc. every time the recycle bin was dumped in the special compound we had to build for glass, but it still wasn’t good enough to recycle. That’s when we started landfilling glass.”
The endless cleaning, sorting, and delivering of glass was also occurring at the High Prairie Recycling Centre by citizens with good intentions.
However, we still do not know when glass recycling stopped, if in fact it ever occurred. Green for Life is not talking and the Town of High Prairie seems disinterested in finding out when.
“I do not know when GFL (Green for Life) stopped recycling glass, that would be a question for them,” wrote Mayor Brian Panasiuk an email May 12.
I beg to differ. Council should care and find out when glass recycling stopped, if nothing else than a courtesy to the citizens who expected the service was being provided. I asked Panasiuk and councillors Donna Deynaka, John Dunn, Sacha Martens, Judy Stenhouse, James Waikle, and Therese Yacyshyn if they had anything to say to the people who expected the service and were paying for the service.
“I suspect you are correct, people that dropped off glass at the recycling bins were likely expecting it was gong to be recycled, so was council. Again, when council became aware that glass was not being recycled, asked administration to stop the collection of the glass recycling bins,” wrote Panasiuk.
Not one councillor responded.
I would suggest to Mayor Panasiuk “likely expecting” would be more than fully expecting. To suggest people would clean, sort and wash glass and take it to a recycling centre to have it disposed of in a landfill was never their expectation.
There is also no proof from the Town of High Prairie to Big Lakes County that glass recycling was not occurring.
Partial transcripts of Town of High Prairie meetings: March 8, 2022 and May 24, 2022
March 8, 2022 Town of High Prairie Council Meeting: Delegation: Wade Chernichan, Operations Manager, Northern Alberta, Green For Life. (Portion of the Meeting Dealing With Glass Recycling)
WADE CHERNICHAN: “There’s no market for it. Like glass. . .the virgin materials are just so cheap, right.”
(Later in the meeting)
PANASIUK: “Dealing with the recycling of glass, “I’ve heard that the glass is not being recycled right now. Is that correct?”
CHERNICHAN: “Correct. . .”
May 24, 2022 High Prairie Town Council Meeting
(Starting at 37:50 of meeting – CAO Report and Action List)
CAO BRIAN MARTINSON: “As you can see, we’ve cleared up some of the motions that council wants to have a look at that, and I got a call from Green for Life, and they did reimburse us for – from the time that the bins were removed.”
MAYOR BRIAN PANASIUK: “Oh, they did!”
CAO BRIAN MARTINSON: “They did.”
MAYOR BRIAN PANASIUK: “Oh, wow!”
COUNCILLOR SACHA MARTENS: “Only three months.”
CAO BRIAN MARTINSON: “Yeah!”
COUNCILLOR SACHA MARTENS: “Only three months.”
COUNCILLOR JUDY STENHOUSE: “We wanted a year refund.”
CAO BRIAN MARTINSON: “And going forward they’re invoicing us for 13 bins instead of 17.”
(Much of the next minute is difficult to hear; COUNCILLOR SACHA MARTENS questioned Green for Life’s contract, CAO BRIAN MARTINSON replied that Green for Life still had the contract with the Town of High Prairie).
CAO Brian Martinson: “They still have the contract.”
CAO BRIAN MARTINSON: “The gentleman I talked to was hoping that glass would come back into the. . .”
COUNCILLOR SACHA MARTENS: “Uh, uh. If it comes back or not. . .recycling is not happening. . .the gentleman who did the ZOOM admitted to us. Why were we (do something) proactively. It makes no sense. They were charging us for something that. . .”
COUNCILLOR JUDY STENHOUSE: “They had the glass bins there for over a year and they weren’t recycling.”
JAMES WAIKLE: “It’s been a lot longer than a year that glass hasn’t been recycled for even when I was on council in the olden days. The recycling guys were saying glass. . .it will get ground down into sand and used as filler, nothing else. We’re not going to get out of the contract with the company, I don’t think, but as long as they aren’t charging us for the glass bins then, maybe we can get them to sponsor the barbecue.”
COUNCILLOR SACHA MARTENS: “I love that idea. . . I love, love, love that idea. We’re letting them off easy. Three months, they owe us way more than three months. . .Do it, Brian.”
COUNCILLOR JUDY STENHOUSE: “Push it, push it.”
COUNCILLOR JAMES WAIKLE: “All they can say is no.”
COUNCILLOR DONNA DEYNAKA: “All they can say is no if you ask them. . .”
MAYOR BRIAN PANASIUK: “They refunded three months. That was money that we didn’t have coming in. We could possibly use that three months of rent to fund the barbecue. I don’t know. How much was three months?”
COUNCILLOR JAMES WAIKLE: “Let’s see if we can shame them into funding the barbecue.”
COUNCILLOR JUDY STENHOUSE: “Don’t muddy the water.”
MAYOR BRIAN PANASIUK: “Well, no, the reason I’m saying this is we got to let them know pretty quick. Whether or not they’re going to advertise for a barbecue for the town. That’s what I’m saying, if we know we’ve got this much in hand. The rest of it we don’t know. I am still saying go for more but we don’t know if we’re going to get more, but we know we’ve got this much.”
COUNCILLOR JUDY STENHOUSE” “How much is three months?”
COUNCILLOR DONNA DEYNAKA: “And how much is this much for three months?”
MAYOR BRIAN PANASIUK: “I’m not sure what it is either.”
COUNCILLOR JUDY STENHOUSE: “Council’s not accepting that. They want a refund ever since this went downhill or here’s an idea. How about you sponsor the senior’s barbecue.”
COUNCILLOR JAMES WAIKLE: “I think they will jump at that. It looks good for them and it costs them way less than giving us the whole year back.”
MAYOR BRIAN PANSIUK: “OK, we can make a motion at the end of the report and we’ll get it in there.”
NOTE: At the June 14, 2022 meeting, the next regular meeting of council, there was no motion made to the effect MAYOR PANASIUK alluded to. Minutes of May 24, 2022 were approved as presented.